The Constitution

November 3, 2008

Andrew Sullivan formally endorsed Barack Obama today. This was unsurprising, even though Sullivan is a self-described conservative who supported Bush and the Iraq War. The whole thing is worth reading, but I reproduce this section:

“Cheney and Bush, unlike any presidency in American history, have dangerously pushed constitutional government to the brink of collapse. They did not merely assert a unified executive in which actions and regulations reserved to the executive branch were kept free from Congressional and judicial tampering. That is a perfectly defensible position, especially in wartime. They did not merely act in the immediate wake of an emergency to protect American citizens swiftly – again a perfectly legitimate use of executive power, unhampered by Congress or courts. They declared such power to be unlimited; they asserted also that it was as permanent as the emergency they declared; they claimed their dictatorial powers were inherent in the presidency itself, and above any legal constraints; they ordered their own lawyers to provide retroactive and laughable legal immunity for their crimes; they by-passed all the usual and necessary checks within the executive branch to ensure prudence and legality and self-doubt in the conduct of a war; they asserted that emergency war powers applied to the territory of the United States itself; they claimed the right to seize anyone – anyone, citizen or not – they deemed an “enemy combatant,” to hold them indefinitely with no due process and to torture them until they became incoherent, broken, brutalized shells of human beings, if they survived at all. They did this to the guilty and they did this to the innocent. But they also had no way of reliably knowing which was which and who was who. Never before in wartime has the precious, sacred inheritance of free people been treated with such contempt by the leaders of the democratic West.
They seized countless individuals with no trials and no hearings. They tortured dozens to death. They subjected many more to some of the worst psychological torture techniques devised by Communist totalitarians and the worst physical suffering devised by the Gestapo. They crossed lines no American president had ever crossed before. They withdrew the US from the Geneva Conventions – and did so secretly. They tapped American’s phones without warrants, and forced many of their randomly grabbed prisoners into the black hole of insanity. They set up secret sites in former Soviet gulags to torture their victims. They single-handedly devastated America’s reputation for human rights and the rule of law in the minds of the vast majority of people in other Western democracies, let alone the developing world, let alone the millions of Muslims across the Middle East who now suspect that America is not really better than their own thugocracies, that America also tortures when it wants to, that the shining city on a hill is actually a place where men above the law can do anything they want to other human beings in their custody.
No economic mismanagement can compare with this attack on the basic institutions of our democracy and the constitution. No incompetence in conducting an occupation can be deemed comparable with this level of criminality and indecency. No reaction to a natural disaster, however hapless and negligent, is as grave as this crime. No financial crisis eclipses it in gravity. The president’s oath is to protect the constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. Instead, the president himself became an enemy to the constitution he swore to uphold.”

What’s striking here is that he puts – RIGHTLY! – these constitutional issues at the heart of what’s wrong in America and what needs to be changed. The Bush administration has severely distorted our constitutional democratic order, have operated unchecked in the manner of a despot, and have violated our rights. They have suspended habeas corpus, incarcerated the innocent, held people without appeal to any court of law, held people in secret, and have tortured. And they have done so outside of the law and without any concern for the legislature or the courts. This is a grave threat to the Republic.

It is worth pointing out that every discussion of Barack Obama’s qualifications for office have utterly overlooked one of the most important. He is a constitutional law professor at one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, and has been so for many years. He graduated at the top of his class from Harvard Law School and has demonstrated a profound understanding of and respect for the Constitution of the United States.

McCain would have us believe that Obama was nothing more than a “community organizer” who associated with terrorists. And that mayor of Wasilla, Alaska is a greater qualification for the presidency.

Palin would have us believe that one of the greatest threats we face is that the Democrats want to “read [the terrorists] their rights.” Just today she said that the Democrats don’t understand that the terrorists aren’t the “good guys.”



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